North Korea aspire to class of '66

Star striker says he wants to 'revive the glory' of World Cup run 44 years ago.

    Jong absorbs defeat to South Korea last year but the North went on to qualify [GALLO/GETTY]

    North Korea's star striker says his team's mental strength will be the best of any team at the World Cup as they bid to "revive the glory" of the side that reached the quarter-finals of the competition in 1966.

    England fans – with little to cheer since – still talk with pride about their Cup-winning side of that year, and it's no different for North Korea's "Class of '66", who stunned Italy 1-0 to go through from the group stages.

    They even took a three-goal lead against Portugal before losing 5-3, but the North Koreans hadn't been back to the finals until they qualified for South Africa 2010 last year, negotiating a group that included the World Cup regulars of South Korea.

    'Asia's Wayne Rooney'

    And Jong Tae-Se, dubbed "Asia's Wayne Rooney", said just one victory this summer would satisfy the team as they go into the "Group of Death" with Cote d'Ivoire, Portugal and Brazil.

    "We can't match the top teams in the world, or even Asian teams, with technical skills or tactics. But we have a mental strength which can't be beaten by Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast"

    Jong Tae-Se, North Korea striker

    Japan-based Jong, who prefers to be likened to Didier Drogba, has few fears about the North's first World Cup appearance since their astonishing run to the last eight in England 44 years ago.

    "I'm going to do my best to revive the glory of 1966," he told the Reuters news agency after training with J-League side Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday.

    "North Korea have nothing to lose.

    "Nobody would blame us if we lose all three games because us being in the finals itself is a surprise."

    Jong, born in Japan and educated in pro-North Korean schools, said his team had "no pressure of any kind."

    Stealing victory

    "If we could steal just one victory, people around the world will hail us," he said.

    The North could not have had a tougher draw than Group G for the finals in South Africa, but Jong said the outsiders could have a psychological edge.

    "We can't match the top teams in the world, or even Asian teams, with technical skills or tactics," he said – although coach Kim Jong-Hun might have something to say on the tactical side of things.

    "But we have a mental strength which can't be beaten by Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast. That's our main strength."

    Jong, a bustling player frequently asked to play as a lone striker for North Korea, brushed off comparisons with England and Manchester United forward Rooney.

    "I'm happy to be called that but my style is more similar to Drogba's," he said.

    "I want to exchange shirts with him at the World Cup.

    "He's been my inspiration since I became a professional player so I'm delighted to be playing against the Ivory Coast."

    The team kick off the finals against Brazil on June 15.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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